By Meliha Javed
Synonyms for ‘esteem’ build a wonderful picture of what we are seeking for our children in building ‘self-esteem’— regard, reverence, honour, approval, respect, appreciation—for themselves. Similarly it may not be realistic for a theoretical physicist to necessarily be good at being in a receptionist role, involving being skilled with looking after other people’s needs. In good self-esteem there also needs to be acceptance of limited ability in some areas, where the maximising of individual abilities is the goal, not an achievement of excellence or comparison with others of greater giftedness. The child needs to learn respect and esteem for their own individuality, their thinking capacities, their feeling capacities and their capacity to work with strong will. This was based on a misunderstanding about what children need in order to build a healthy respect for all parts of themselves. The twentieth century clearly brought more consciousness to our emotional lives, to being able to name and acknowledge feelings and to take more responsibility for them. This is the lofty aim in building self-esteem in our children, though we must begin in modest ways. This too is about self empowerment and self respect and is part of building self-esteem. So we are looking at building respect for children’s individualities, for intellectual and emotional capacities, for their will and actions and for their physical bodies. Confidence and self-esteem: a clarification. It is unrealistic to expect a child who is not strong with abstract intellectual work, but is good with practical tasks, to be a theoretical physicist. In the last thirty years the term self-esteem has been given a bad name because of the indiscriminate use of praise encouraged by some in the self-esteem movement. What we do not want is self limitation based on lack of confidence and lack of self respect, rather than lack of ability. Then the praise becomes worthless. Children also need to be able to accept and respect the physical body they have been given. Essential to this is a self acceptance, of our capacities, our appearance, and of who we are at our best. Children do need recognition for what they do well, when they try hard, and where they fail but try again. In building self-esteem, what is important is that all aspects of the child need to be acknowledged and respected. If all of these areas are not acknowledged, the child can be left vulnerable in the area where self respect and acceptance has not been developed. But when everything is praised, whether it is good or bad and whether the child made an effort or not, the child learns to distrust the opinion of the giver of the praise. Even worse than this, when the praise is deserved, the child may not accept it as legitimate. The other aspect of accepting our limitations is the acceptance that we are not perfect (yet) but with awareness and commitment we can learn to change behaviours which are not always very noble in us! This is the work we do to transform our ‘worst selves’ into something closer to our ‘best selves’. If we could just send all our children out into the world with such feelings of acceptance of themselves, what a different world it would be. What the self-esteem movement did understand however, was that children need their feelings respected, and conscious parents today do respect the feelings and individuality of children more than has ever been done before. Good self-esteem means valuing our abilities and accepting our limitations. Part of the respect for the will is what today is being called resilience, which in this context is a healthy respect for one’s will power, one’s ability to have the courage to try, to try again, to persevere, recover and learn from failure.
Mar 30, 2017 0
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